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Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

THE PREMISE

Earth Unaware is a prequel to the award winning science fiction novel Ender’s Game. The book essentially sets the scene in detail of what human society is like before the arrival of an alien race and then delves into the first encounter. Earth Unaware is the first book of a trilogy that completely tells the back story to Ender’s Game.

THE GOOD

Most of the scientific detail is intricate enough to feel believable without being so heavy that it encumbers the story. Ender’s Game is one of those books that I fell in love when I was young and still holds a special place in my heart. It’s always a pleasure to go back to that world and maybe that skews my perception of this book a little bit.

THE BAD

After I finished the book I realized there are actually a lot of things that happen just right for the story. Just the right character with just the right back story to make them do just the right thing happens to come on scene at just the right time to make the story flow. Much of the story reeks of this deus ex machina. There is one major exception. There is one plot twist that is so obvious and tedious that I was rolling my eyes waiting for it happen. But, at least this one time it didn’t.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Earth Unaware takes you back into a version of Ender’s universe that makes you feel more homesick than nostalgic. The story starts out fine and gets progressively more forced as it goes. As the first book in a sequel it only tells the first third of a story, which although fine is also completely unnecessary. To me the whole point of having a trilogy is to have three separate stories. This feels more like the first chapter or section of a really long book than it does a book unto its own.

 
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11/22/63 by Stephen King

Published on November 2, 2012 in Book Reviews

THE PREMISE

11/22/63 is a story about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK. Jake Epping happens upon a portal that allows him to go back in time to 1958. He can return to his own time but each time he uses the portal any previous changes he’s made to the past are reset. In effect, as the book puts it, each trip back is the first trip. This creates a Groundhogs Day like effect that allows Jake to go back in time, make changes, return to the future to check on the results, and have to option to go back in time again with a clean slate if he’s not happy with the results.

THE GOOD

The story is really well written. I was born in 1977 so the barrier to 1958 for me is more than one of memory. But the verisimilitude is so tangible it pops right out of the book and automatically causes my mind to create associations with dozens of references in my head from that time period from the music to the types of cars to the way that people dressed and spoke.

Time travel has been done to death but this story is just different enough that I didn’t mind the cliché. Besides, the story itself isn’t about time travel. It’s almost more of an excuse for the author to go back to a time in his life and explore the consequences of making choices there. The characters in the story are so vivid and powerful that I found myself missing them, as is common with really good fiction, after I finished the story.

THE BAD

Although the story was written by someone who grew up in the 60’s the main character is of my generation and I felt like there were too many cultural and technological differences that were too easily accepted by Jake. Minorities using different bathrooms from Caucasians and it being improper for a man to stay the night at a woman’s house if they weren’t married are two examples. It’s not that these things aren’t addressed it’s that Jake accepts them too easily and too readily. My mind had a lot of trouble glossing over the differences so quickly though it is entirely possible not everyone from my generation, or even the majority, would have so much trouble accepting and adapting to these differences.

THE BOTTOM LINE

11/22/63 is a great story that flew by on my Kindle to the point where I was sad when the ride was finally over and didn’t even notice that it was twice the length of a normal novel. The only thing that keeps it at four out of five stars is that I found the main character’s assimilation to the past a little too smooth and the book didn’t completely satisfy my appetite for all the possibilities that could come from changing history.

 
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Patriotism

Published on October 23, 2012 in Philosophy

Pride can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. When used to combat depression and low self esteem, pride in one’s accomplishments can be pivotal in banishing the specter of hopelessness. But on the other hand, when pride is used as a fence or a barrier to divide people and keep them separate it can become perhaps the most dangerous and deadly weapon our race has ever conceived.

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing and repugnant uses of the word “pride” in modern American culture is the term “Aryan Pride.” A white supremacist claims merit in their race and wears their ethnicity like a badge of honor. In fact they did nothing personally to earn it; their race was dictated to them by the genetics of their parentage. A person does not control who contributes to their gene pool. Their ancestry is handed to them on a great roulette wheel. Neither shame nor pride is appropriate for the result of the spin. And yet those that end up with a different spin, a different result, become targets. The white supremacist’s pride is used as a barrier of bigotry and hatred, separating those on their side from those that are not.

Cited as the cause of Lucifer’s fall from Grace, Pride is considered the most egregious of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride allows people to whimsically and arbitrarily create barriers that divide, isolate, and control. These wooden fences are frequently a source of tension and can, with the gentle kiss of a match, become the source of fire and violence.

It is not just a minority of hate groups that flock to the banners on those fences. Nearly everyone does it, as if it is a human genetic predisposition. For instance fanatics on both sides of a sporting event, clinging to the banners of their teams, can easily turn to violence. Perhaps the most prevalent and dangerous banner is the banner of patriotism.

Oscar Wilde said that “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” Perhaps he was thinking of the hatred that is created when a national barrier arbitrarily separates people. Like the Aryan supremacist before, we have groups of people that espouse their own nations and wear their flags like a badge of honor when, most likely, their nationality is a simple result of the longitude and latitude at which they were born. Yet their patience and tolerance for someone born outside of their border is as short as it is unforgiving.

Be it the white robe and hood of the Klan or my own country’s flag, what benefit do these banners serve except to separate us from our own fellow human beings? Wouldn’t it be worth it to take down these banner laden barriers in order to reunite into a human race? Our problems would become their problems, and their problems would become our problems, and for the first time we would be a whole people. Isn’t that worth burning down the banners, star spangled or otherwise?

 
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Take Note

Published on October 6, 2012 in Writing

One of the things you’re doing when you write is sharing your ideas. In order to do this you have to have something to share in the first place. We all have ideas pop into our head all day. Most of them are either too trivial or banal to share but a few of them are entertaining or profound enough that they might be useful. The problem is your life is so busy that even when you have a good idea occupying your immediate thoughts, pretty soon something else comes to mind and you’re liable to forget the share-worthy idea you just had. So what you’ve got to do is write those ideas down. Carry a small note pad, record the idea as a sound file on your iPhone, or write it on your hand if you have to. But have a way of recording these ideas.

Now this is not a new concept. I remember reading about this in, of all things, a book about how to be a better salesperson. I remember hearing George Carlin talk about writing down his random thoughts during one of his interviews. The important thing is to have this repository of ideas somewhere so that you can tap into it when you’re writing. It might help you develop a character, or a conversation, or to describe a scene. You might even fuse two or three really good ideas together into an entire plot for a novel. But you can’t do any of that unless you write the damn stuff down in the first place.

Now, I’m not saying everything you write down is going to be useful. When you go back and look at some of it you might even wonder why you bothered to write it down in the first place. But sometimes there will be a real gem. You won’t know it when you first write it down, but when you find it later you’ll be glad you did.

 
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